Former PM Tony Abbott has urged MPs and senior bureaucrats to take pay cuts to help spread the pain of the “private sector calamity” of the pandemic.
Mr Abbott said senior public servants and MPs earning more than $150,000 should take a temporary 20 per cent pay cut as the economic fallout from the coronavirus hits millions of Australians.
“One of the most grating phrases of this whole pandemic has been we’re all in this together because frankly, we haven’t been in it together,” he has told The Australian.
“We have a private sector calamity happening. And again, as much as I respect the professionalism of the public service, no public servant has lost his or her job, no public servant has had his or her pay cut.”
Mr Abbott’s call came as figures showed the national unemployment rate hit a 22-year high of 7.4 per cent in June. Worse is expected to come when the full effect of Melbourne’s return to stage-three lockdowns is felt.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly ruled out taking a pay cut during the pandemic, although politicians and public servants have had their wages frozen for 12 months. In May, Mr Morrison said he would “just keep doing a good job”.
“I have no plans to make any changes to those arrangements,” he told the National Press Club in Canberra.
“I’ll just keep doing a good job, that’s my plan, and I will be accountable to Australians for that job.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has also famously also ruled out a pay cut, saying it wouldn’t make much of a difference.
“I think MPs and public servants are working very hard right now,” Senator Cormann – who will leave politics at the end of 2020 – told Sky News.
“I’m not sure how this sort of suggestion would help – in the context of the budget challenge, it’s essentially at the margin.”
In April, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern said she and her cabinet would take 20 per cent temporary pay cuts to reflect the tough economic conditions of the COVID-19 crisis.
“I absolutely accept this is not going to change the government books but for us it’s about leadership,” she said.
Interviewed by IPA director John Roskam in a podcast for The Australian, Mr Abbott said the Morrison government should follow Ms Ardern’s lead.
“I’m not normally a big fan of the New Zealand Prime Minister,” Mr Abbott said.
“[But] in this instance, following Jacinda Ardern in temporarily reducing the salaries of MPs and, say, public servants earning over $150,000 a year would be a sensible thing to do.”
Mr Abbott also writes in The Australian that the nation’s post-pandemic recovery will be held back if it cannot have broader debates about its values.
He highlights the Black Lives Matter protests and left-wing objections to the phrase “all lives matter”, used by some far-right groups, as a sign of the intolerance of the “talking class” and the inability of the Australian political system to lead reform.
“There will be a fierce dispute, of course, about whether it is possible even to have ‘Australian values’, let alone to specify what they are, but that has been part of our recent problem – an unwillingness to argue about the things that really matter lest someone, somewhere, be upset,” he said.